When you needed to know exactly the reason for something, at least 25 years ago or more, you were pretty lost. Unless you knew a guy who knew a guy, you had to become an investigative journalist.
You’d start off going to your nearest and most current encyclopedia. You might then use a library catalog to look for books on the topic and hopefully have access to those book copies, or wait for the intra-library loan service to get your book.
You might end up searching through microfiches archives of newspapers, reeling through date and after date. You’d ask yourself how long after the occurrence of something would it be covered in the news. What city? What language?
But what about specific knowledge? You’d need to rely on finding an expert who’d be willing to tell you what to do. User groups weren’t as easily accessible unless someone had the equipment and knowhow to get online and know what to look for.
The first poison control phone center was an example of making specific information available quickly. Helplines were another. But there are an infinite number of things that we need to know the answer to.
For example, what is that spider on my deck? You’d have to visit a local university and find an expert, either bringing in the specific or hoping that your film camera had all the setting aligned to come up with a good shot.
Now, finding experts is either a Google or Facebook search away. However, new skills are needed to sift through the junk.
My hope for the next generation coming up is that they’re offered courses on research and finding out useful vs non-useful information and how to test what they’ve found.